You can learn to avoid marrying a jerk
by Rachel Baruch Yackley
Posted Daily Herald, Monday, May 21, 2007
It’s not unusual to have a bad relationship. But the trick is to avoid having one the next time around.
You can learn how to better choose your mate at Betty Lou Barsley-Marra’s course “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk (or Jerkette).”
This course is for everyone, whether you are contemplating a first serious relationship or have been around the block a few times.
Barsley-Marra is an educator who specializes in human sexuality, human development, early-childhood education, secondary education, relationship enhancement and personal development and wellness. She has taught in early-childhood settings, in a public secondary school, and at the university level.
Barsley-Marra earned her bachelor’s degree in family and child development from Northern Illinois University, and her master’s from the University of Illinois at Chicago in instructional leadership with a specialization in human sexuality education and counseling. She is working on her doctorate in clinical psychology.
Q: Why do you teach this particular program?
A: I’ve done relationship education for about 30 years. I’ve worked with teens, and with couples, before. This program filled a niche. It’s not (a program) that I wrote. It was written by psychologist John van Epp. His approach is unique: Can we get people to explore their choices before jumping in? Most religious groups have their own method of exploring this with couples, but they do it too late ... after everyone’s in love.
Q: What’s the structure of the program; is it interactive?
A: It really is what I would call a combination of presentation and discussion. People don’t have to reveal anything they don’t want to. Participants do like some presentation, and we move into lots of issues to discuss. I try to create a sense of community where people feel free to discuss (these issues). Also, everyone gets a workbook which they can work on in the intervening weeks. It’s not required, its just to keep track of what they’re thinking.
Q: I’ve heard this is a very popular class. Where have you taught it before?
A: I’ve taught this class in McHenry, DuPage, and in Kane County last October. We have them planned through 2008, throughout the northeast part of the state. The first time I taught this was in January ’06. It’s done well since the get-go. We’re getting a lot more inquiries from people. I try to have at least one class going in this all the time; I do eight to nine per year. I also do parent education classes and human sexuality classes.
Q: Why do this in five sessions? Why isn’t one enough?
A: I suppose you could do this in a whole day. But we learned through research that it really helps if people can reflect during the intervening weeks. We meet for five weeks in a row, and six months later we have a reunion. Because we are a university, we’re always gathering research data. People share anecdotes, and we look for people who are choosing different behaviors than they were before the class. We work with folks to recap, and that’s always very interesting. People in the class get to hear what each other thinks about it (the program).
I can think particularly of a woman a couple classes ago who said she found herself on the Internet, scanning (dating sites), like she used to before the class started. She would immediately fall for one guy or another, based on what she saw. After just the first few days of the class, she said, “I realized I was doing it again.” She was already changing her behavior.
It’s about finding how do you pace your heart to give your head time to get the information it needs. (After that) you’re really looking at people doing things differently.
Q: This sounds like behavior modification.
A: Yes. Getting people to be more mindful — more aware of what you do — and do what’s best for themselves outside of external influences.
Q: What kinds of responses have you gotten from previous people?
A: For some people, that it’s helpful to hear it’s OK not to settle; not to rush into things. We’re strongly controlled by our culture. People think they’re doing it wrong if they spend too much time thinking about it.
Single people, especially of a certain age, are always hearing that they’re too picky, too. You have to ask yourself, does this person (you like) consistently treat you well and respectfully? That’s not being picky. We all deserve respect and honesty.
I think that in many ways, the men who are brave enough to come to this class, when we crunch the numbers, turn out to be statistically as much if not more positive (than the women) about proceeding in a relationship in a way that makes it more satisfying and successful.
Q: What part of the population do you see more of at this class, people who are divorced? People who have been hurt?
A: We get people between the ages of 17 and 83 years old. Except for the very youngest, most of the people have had a real broken heart from being involved with a jerk. They all describe that person as, “What a jerk!” Sometimes the very young people who come, if they haven’t experienced it themselves, have seen it with others, and want to learn how to avoid getting involved with a jerk.
Q: Would you share a couple of tips to avoid partnering up with a jerk or jerkette?
A: I do think the first thing is if you don’t consciously try to pace your heart, it will get away from you. It’s a conscious effort. A lot of this has to do with not jumping in too fast.
Second, you have to expect that it takes time to get to know one another. It’s actually what you do while you spend time together that’s important. You really have to allow time to spend that time talking and really getting to know that person.
Any relationship can weather a wonderful life, when there’s no loss, no unemployment, no illness. You really need time to see how this person deals with life, the good stuff that happens and the bad stuff that happens.
Q: If we believe we’ve met Mr. or Mrs. Right, are there still steps you recommend to be sure?
A: You want to examine challenges in the relationship. How have they been weathered; how have they been dealt with?
When someone says to me that this is the right person, I say: So you like her better than any other person you’ve ever known? Do you really like her? How honest are you really being with yourself?
I really concentrate a lot on the liking.
As days go by, people get signals it isn’t the right person. You have to ask, does each day bring further confirmation that this person is the right person?
The 5-part series, “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk (or Jerkette),” will be held on consecutive Wednesday evenings from May 23 through June 20 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Illinois Extension Kane County office, 535 S. Randall Road, St. Charles.
The cost is $50 per person. Young adults age 18 are welcome at no charge if accompanied by a registered adult. To register, call (630) 584-6166, or visit web.extension.uiuc.edu/kane/family.html.
Betty Lou Barsley-Marra
Resides: Oak Lawn
Occupation: Family life educator for University of Illinois Extension.
Little-known fact: “I love anything to do with pop culture and traditional high culture. I enjoy going to the opera and to funky little clubs.”